Oct 19, 2022
Russia attacks Ukraine’s power supply causing widespread blackouts Transcript
Russian missile and drone strikes have knocked out nearly one-third of Ukraine’s power plants in the last week, leaving people there in the dark and in the cold. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Returning now to the war in Ukraine: as we reported, Ukraine’s president said today that roughly 30% of Ukraine’s power generation has been attacked and knocked offline by new Russian attacks. Nick Shifrin looks at a Ukraine partially in the dark as the cold descends almost eight months into the war.
Nick Shifrin (00:20):
In southern Ukraine today, this is all that’s left of a residential building: a giant crater where a home stood for decades. Destruction and death arrived from a clear blue sky. The price of Russian rockets that elude Ukraine’s air defenses, this civilian’s life as he slept, and the country’s infrastructure. Today, Russia struck this combined heat and power plant in [inaudible 00:00:44].
For the last month, Russia has targeted Ukraine’s electricity grid, especially substations that serve as junction points between cities. Nearly all of Ukraine’s substations have been damaged, and President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted today 30% of the country’s power plants have been destroyed.
That means in eastern cities like Kyiv Sharivka, where the destruction is still fresh, residents live without electricity or heat. Nine year old Artem Panchenko helps his grandmother Irina prepare dinner. He eats in the dark, a family powerless to stop what’s coming. They have to cook outside on the fire. Winter in eastern Ukraine is already arriving.
Artem Panchenko (01:26):
It’s really cold. I’m sleeping in my clothes in my apartment.
Suriya Jayanti (01:30):
I think it can be safely assumed that what Russia is trying to do is freeze Ukraine into submission.
Nick Shifrin (01:38):
Suriya Jayanti is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and co-founder of Eney, a US-Ukrainian company focused on green energy transition. She says damaged infrastructure hurts Ukraine’s civilians and military, and that Ukraine and Russia playing cat-and-mouse. Ukraine fixes damage; Russia strikes it again.
Suriya Jayanti (01:57):
So this seems to be a strike at the nervous system of Ukraine’s resistance. This is going to be a very long, very cold and very dark winter for Ukraine.
Nick Shifrin (02:07):
And yet Ukrainians remain resilient. In a new Gallup poll released today, 70% say Ukraine should continue fighting until it wins, and of those, 91% defined victory as when all territory lost between 2014 and now is regained, including Crimea.
But that could be more difficult now that Russia is using Iranian-made kamikaze drones that are eight feet wide and carry about a hundred pounds of explosives. Russia’s already launched hundreds of drones. Ukraine has managed to shoot many of them down, but even a handful that get through can cause major damage and give Russia a new weapon of war.
And to discuss further the impact of the infrastructure strikes and these Iranian drones now in Ukraine, we turn to Samuel Bendett, a Russian military analyst for the Center for Naval Analysis. Samuel Bendett, thank you very much. Welcome to the News Hour. Over the course of this war, Russia has at times restrained itself from attacking infrastructure targets, but in the last few weeks, we have seen countless strikes across the country, and now including using these kamikaze drones. Is this a shift in Russian tactics?
Samuel Bendett (03:19):
In a way, it is. It is a response to Ukrainian very successful counterattacks, Ukrainian successful advancements against the Russian forces in the east and the south of the country, and the Russian realization that it must do something to try and stem this advance and cause a certain level of attrition and essentially a certain level of pain on the Ukrainian defense industry, on the population and the military.
Nick Shifrin (03:44):
And so why do you think Russia has turned to Iran, turned to these Iranian drones, in this moment?
Samuel Bendett (03:50):
I mean, Russia has a certain capability that it was unable to really put in the field at scale. Iran was able to offer significant capability to the Russians in the form of loading ammunitions like the Shahed-136 and Shahed-131, as well as several combat drones like the Mohajer-6. And these are relatively cheap and inexpensive drones by comparison to the damage that they can cause. So to Russia, this represents a very significant capability and increase in their ability to strike Ukrainian targets.
Nick Shifrin (04:26):
And so the ability for Russia to now loiter above a target, as you’re saying these drones give Russia the ability to do, does that give Russia some kind of edge in this war strategically that you don’t think it had before?
Samuel Bendett (04:39):
The drones that were used in recent strikes have a range of up to 200 kilometers, and so this represents a significant increase in Russian capabilities, because now a bulk of the Ukrainian population, its military and industry are within range of these loitering munitions when launched either from the southeast of the country or even from Belarus.
Nick Shifrin (05:01):
Does Ukraine have the ability to defend itself against these kamikaze drones?
Samuel Bendett (05:06):
Absolutely it does. In fact, it has shut down most of these drones. More than three quarters of them are actually lost in these attacks. The whole point of launching these munitions in waves is that a lot of them will be lost, but a few of them are going to make it past the air defenses. These drones basically saturate the air defense capabilities, and so one or two has to make it through to really cause the damage, and that’s what we’ve seen in recent attacks.
Nick Shifrin (05:32):
And that brings us to those air defenses. Ukraine has been asking for more from the US, from Europe. The US has provided some systems and is providing more advanced systems, as is Germany, as possibly other Western European countries are. Talk about how difficult, though, it is to create a layered system of defense that can really protect Ukraine not only from these drones, but from a larger Russian missiles as well.
Samuel Bendett (05:59):
It is a challenge. Specifically, these drones, the Shahed-136 and 131, they fly low. They fly slow. They have a relatively small radar signature, so they can’t always be seen and identified by the early warning radars. They could be heard before they’re seen because of their relatively cheap civilian-style motor. And so once the population actually sees the drone in the immediate vicinity, it’s probably too late to do anything about that as it begins to descend to target. However, robust electronic warfare defenses are in fact capable of interfering with these drones’ fly patterns. They use cheap GPS systems, or rather civilian GPS systems, that could be scrambled and jammed and interfered with. And this is where some of the successes against these drones has been visible lately.
Nick Shifrin (06:50):
Nearly all of Ukraine’s substations, as well as the distribution lines for electricity as well as for heat, have been destroyed. Those can be fixed in a matter of days, Ukrainian officials say. But Zelensky today admitted 30% of the power plants have also been destroyed. That takes a longer time to fix. Does that have not only civilian implications, but military implications as well?
Samuel Bendett (07:15):
Well, absolutely. Right now, Ukrainian civilian and military efforts are interlinked. A lot of the resources are part of both civilian and the military effort. At the same time, this doesn’t necessarily appear to stem the Ukrainian resolve in the face of these attacks, and it’s not likely that these drones will have an effect on the Ukrainian population that Russia probably intends. But we’re also in a relatively uncharted territory. If Russia continues to launch these strikes on a daily basis, and if Russia in fact gains more of these loitering drones, as the Ukrainian government itself has indicated, there’s a possible plan for Russia to acquire over 2000 of these UAVs, and if all of those are going to be used against Ukrainian civilian and military infrastructure, then this becomes a different type of war.
Nick Shifrin (08:05):
Ukraine’s terrain gets very difficult to cross when it becomes muddy. That’s in the next few weeks. But over the winter, will both sides continue to keep fighting and try and push the frontline forward?
Samuel Bendett (08:17):
Both sides are preparing for winter warfare. Ukrainians are preparing for it. Russians are preparing for it. Russian volunteers are fundraising for thermal underwear and for warm clothes for their soldiers as well. So there’s every bit of a resolve on both sides to fight into the winter to try, essentially, for the Ukraine to push the Russians further south and east and for the Russians to try and reverse some of the Ukrainian advances.
Nick Shifrin (08:45):
Samuel Bendett with the Center for Naval Analyses. Thank you very much.
Samuel Bendett (08:49):